How to Avoid Info-Dumping Your Awesome Research

by Katie Gowrie

I’ve always thought one of the best things about reading a Harlequin romance is the cool facts you pick up along the way. Action, emotion, the chance to learn something new—all tied up with that feel-good HEA.

We editors love a story that’s cradled by good research, be it settings, careers and hobbies, or whatever situation the characters find themselves in. There’s so much fascinating information to be found in a good book, and once you’ve read it, it sticks. (Because of my day job, I’m fairly confident I can survive an avalanche, attend a state dinner, and fight off dengue fever using only papayas.)

Not only does good research make the story more believable, it makes for really interesting reading. But sprinkling those facts with finesse is easier said than done. There’s no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to the art of the info-dump (or rather, the art of avoiding it), but here’s some food for thought.

Don’t bite off more than we can chew

This is tough. As a writer, you’ve taken the time to really delve into a subject for your book, and you can’t wait to share everything you’ve learned! But readers shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by a subject they know little about. Cut that information into bite-size pieces and put it in accessible terms where possible. Think of it this way, your ability to do this is a testament to how well you know your subject. You might think your information-laden scene is interesting, but if it fails to get a reaction from the reader (other than “I’m bored” or “You lost me”), it’s not working. And remember, if your story shines light on a unique topic, an engaging voice can go a long way.

It’s all in the integration

Avoid the dump and embrace the weave. If the reader is learning something new, aim to reveal information in equal parts action, dialogue and narrative. Your heroine raises mini-horses for a living? Fascinating—tell me more. But large swaths of text on feeding habits or the science of breeding might make for dull reading. Research, no matter how interesting, shouldn’t slow down the forward momentum of the scene. Consider having your heroine in action on the ranch as she goes about her daily tasks—she’s walking, talking, thinking, mini-horses. And if you find your horse-expert heroine rambling, try breaking up info-heavy dialogue with gestures or short responses from someone else.

So what?

My high school English teacher’s favorite phrase, and master essay-writing prompt. To help us expand on a point, we’d start with the first sentence and ask ourselves, “So what?” And voila, a paragraph is born (and a paper is written). Let’s borrow this. Your awesome research might seem forced if it doesn’t arise organically from the scene. So try asking yourself, Why Now? Why am I adding these details here? If something is integral to the scene, that information belongs there. But if you can’t come up with an answer, it’s probably safe to leave those tidbits out. Perhaps it can be worked in later, or maybe your story doesn’t need it.

As with many things in writing, this is trial and error. Working that research into your writing might work in one scene and bring you to a standstill in another. Always remember to have fun, and relish the chance to learn new things (and teach us!) through your storytelling.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Share your ideas on info-dumping research, along with a fun fact you’ve learned from a Harlequin romance, in the comments below!


5 replies on “How to Avoid Info-Dumping Your Awesome Research”

Interesting novels nearly always have “insider” information. A small few are just clever with words. A novel without insider info is like spaghetti sauce made without a slash of vinegar.

Thanks for sharing these tips, Katie. They’re good things to keep in mind when we write. The main way I use research is to have enough confidence that I know what I’m talking about and just tell the story. Rarely do I ever put much of my research on the page.

Nothing really stands out that I’ve learned by reading a Harlequin romance except maybe details about certain settings. Unfortunately, what I remember most is when the author didn’t research and it shows in the details of the book. Like the rancher who didn’t know the difference between horse manure and cow manure (there are definite differences and any rancher will know). Or the rodeo bull equipped with a saddle horn. I’ve been to lots of rodeos and have never seen a bull with a saddle horn. I have, however, seen one on a mechanical bull, but those are for amateurs.

I do a lot of research for my books and characters, and location, etc. I start writing and not wanting to lose the flow, I put down whatever info carries me over into the next scene. When I go back through the story with one of the many edits, I thin out the info that is unnecessary and use only what is pertinent to the scene. I think we sometimes want to tell all and it is hard not to when the writing bug hits. You are designing and writing as fast as you can. The urge to get it down before the muse leaves is overwhelming. But as long as you go back and make sure only what is needed is there, I think it’s okay. Of course, if you can learn to write the “perfect romance” the first time through, more power to you. 🙂

I have always been told “write only what you know about,” and I found that to be good advice. However, carried to an extreme, it can hinder a writer’s imagination which is the basis of his or her craft. Of course the internet is an enormous help. If you are writing about an intern in a law firm and are not a lawyer, perhaps it is best to keep the research to a believable minimum (too much will always sound false coming from a non-lawyer) and concentrate on the young woman’s trials and tribulations but also joys that she finds in her job.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *